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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Repossession "task force" welcomed

The Department for Social Development will be setting up a working group on repossession and negative equity. It will examine the extent of the problem and consider options for government intervention.

The current level of repossession actions in Northern Ireland is the highest in the UK.  Recent Courts & Tribunal Service statistics show that over 1000 cases were received to the High Court between January and March 2013, representing a 19% increase on the same period last year.

Stakeholders discuss options at Committee for Social Development event

To assist the Department in its consideration of these issues, the Committee for Social Development recently held a stakeholder event. Delegates from more than 30 organisations attended the event where there was overwhelming agreement that more needs to be done to support those at risk of repossession in Northern Ireland.

Amongst the issues discussed was whether part of the mortgage debt of struggling homeowners should be written down.  

The stakeholders who attended the event welcomed the establishment of a task force to fully examine the options available to deal with mortgage debt and repossession in Northern Ireland.  They also raised the matter of the group’s composition, suggesting that any group should have an independent chairperson and include input from a range of government departments, lenders, debt advice organisations, housing providers and the courts.

What should the repossession task force focus on?

Delegates said the taskforce should

  • analyse the difficulties in the Northern Ireland housing market and their relationship to the wider economy,
  • focus on preventing homelessness and
  • consider the impact on tenants of rented homes being repossessed.

It was agreed that there was a sense of urgency and that ideally the taskforce should be convened as early as possible.

Delegates’ views have been passed to the Committee for Social Development, which will then make recommendations to the Department on the composition, remit and timetable for the working group.

Housing Rights Service view

Commenting on repossession Nicola McCrudden, Policy and Communications Manager at Housing Rights Service welcomed the Minister’s intentions to establish a working group. She said the safety net for local struggling homeowners was weaker than elsewhere in the UK.

Nicola pointed out that Northern Ireland has no mortgage rescue scheme and borrowers who are in difficulties have to rely on lender forbearance and Support for Mortgage Interest – two options which are not sustainable in the long term. There is a fear that repossessions will rise if interest rates or house prices go up.  She said: "There are few options for people in mortgage arrears who are in negative equity; its unlikely they will be able to pay the debt back if the property is repossessed. We would like to see a range of options considered including a mortgage to rent scheme and debt write down.”

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Northern Ireland Assembly Commission

Tagged In

Repossession, Affordability, NI Assembly

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This article was written on 1 July 2013. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.